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Class of 2023 graduates from Jackson High School

Jackson graduates throw their caps in celebration at the end of their commencement ceremony on Friday. Photo by Jay Forness

Jackson High School celebrated 367 graduates in the Class of 2023 during its commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19, at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.

JHS Science Teacher Kelsey Spain, who was chosen as this year’s commencement speaker, told the graduates that they were the reason she loved teaching.

“I want so much for you to experience the same adoration for your work that I do for mine,” Spain told the graduates. “Not every day is easy, but it’s worth it. I want to challenge you do something in your future that brings you joy.”

Spain added that she didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher, starting college with a major in exercise science.

“It may take some time for you to figure out what you want to do with your life, but trust me, it’s never too late to pursue your joy,” she said. “If you start off down a road that doesn’t quite get you where you need to be, it’s okay – put it in reverse and try another route.”

Spain reminded the graduates to do what is right rather than what is easy, sometimes what you want and what you need aren’t the same thing, and it’s okay to be afraid.

“Being afraid is normal,” Spain said. “In fact, fear pushes you towards growth. You’ve already overcome so many fears to find your place in the seat you’re in tonight.”

JHS Principal Seth Harrell and Superintendent Scott Smith also gave their words of encouragement to the graduates. “No matter what your future plans are, I encourage you to be confident in yourself and have the belief that you will be successful,” Harrell said.

Smith had all of those in attendance who were a part of the graduate’s lives stand up to show the graduates that they have people who support them as they embark on the next chapter of their lives.

“This year, our theme for the district has been ‘Stronger Together,’” Smith said to the Class of 2023. “Graduates, there is no doubt in my mind that you have put a lot of work in to get here. Over the past 13 years, your dedication has helped you be here tonight.”

During the commencement ceremony, Bailey O’Neal was announced as the Class of 2023 valedictorian with a GPA of 12.306 and Eva Carrasquillo-Wilkinson was named salutatorian with a GPA of 12.145. “Both of these students have worked extremely hard to achieve this distinction,” Harrell said.

Three graduates were honored for their commitment to join the military after graduation. Adam Sammut will join the Missouri Army National Guard, Drew Lynch will join the United States Army and Cole Vermillion will join the United States Marine Corp.

Mason Hiett and Noah Gibson were recognized for having perfect attendance. Both students had not missed a day of school since they were in middle school.

Graduates were recognized for earning college scholarships during the ceremony, including more than $35,000 awarded by the Jackson R-2 Foundation and $50,000 awarded from local businesses, organizations and individuals.

In addition, 114 students were recognized for successfully completed the A+ scholarship program, serving a combined 6,332 hours of tutoring over the past four years.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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